An idle mind often follows whimsical paths. I was reminded of that when the following thoughts crept into my head one late-winter evening:
For no reason, I pondered the marked similarities between specific species of terrestrial and aquatic life. If you think of the plane on which air and water meet as a looking glass, it is fairly easy to see some of the creatures that live on one side reflected in those that live on the other.
Take hardheads, for example. (And take all you want--nobody will miss them.) The hardhead catfish is a generally despised, potentially harmful waste of flesh that never met anything it wasnt willing--enthusiastically--to bite.
My immediate thought as its counterpart was the cottonmouth, but I actually respect snakes and do not share that feeling for the hardhead. Ultimately, the nod went to sewer rats. City rats. Garbage eaters, not field mice earning their hardscrabble existence on waste grain and wild seed.
Scale tipper for the sewer rat-hardhead play was that if you were hungry enough, although you wouldnt like doing so, you could eat either one. I couldnt eat a water moccasin.
Moving on to a more glamorous path, consider the Spanish and king mackerels. Both are high-velocity, acrobatic predators that take most of their meals at full speed.
This one is easy. The smaller and larger mackerels are to schools of sardines and mullet what falcons and hawks are to meadow mice and pigeons. By water or air, the attacks of these lightning-bolt predators are swift, and death of the prey is instant or nearly so.
Somewhere near the bottom of the visible food chain, you will find shrimp in the bays and grasshoppers in the fields. Both can seem amazingly agile to any of us who try to catch one by hand, but neither is a match for the stabbing beaks of birds, rushing mouths of big fish, or bullwhip tongues of lizards. Where shrimp and grasshoppers live, almost everything bigger than them eats them.
On the cuddly side, there is commonality between crappie and cottontails. Each is relatively delicate in its world and, as prey, must constantly watches over its finned or furred shoulder. Nervous by nature and prolific by same, white perch and bunnies are the marshmallows of fish and wildlife.
I wanted to liken largemouth bass to bobcats, both being opportunistic ambush feeders, but the latter tends to remain lean throughout its life. A bass, on the other hand, becomes relatively fat and lethargic in seniority, still capable of feeding itself but more apt to take one big meal than six smaller ones. I will stick with the comparison for lack of a better one but, in my mind, add a beer belly to the cat.
There are solid matches in the world of biting, stinging creatures. The first is stingrays and scorpions, both of which respond to threat with a swift upturning of their tails. Stingrays are much larger, of course, and capable (with a few exceptions) of inflicting a more painful wound, but either can ruin an outdoorsmans day with one swing of its tail.
No roll call of natural annoyances is complete without mention of what most coastal residents call sea lice, which actually are the pinhead-sized larvae of blue crabs. One the right spring tide, they can be so thick in the surf that paddling a surfboard through them feels as if you are pulling your arms through a giant bowl of grits. They have tiny pincers with which to attach themselves to any unsuspecting host that happens along. Hitchhikers, they are, with a preference for dark, damp places. (Draw your own conclusions.)
Their terrestrial mirror image, of course, is the chigger. Evolution left no clues as to whether chiggers crawled to sea and became crab larvae or crab larvae got tired of the marine life and crept up the beach into the nearest open field. It doesnt matter. A few dozen of either can generate an excruciating, ceaseless itch in places it is not polite to scratch publicly.
There are plenty more--blue marlins and lions, wahoos and wolverines--for which there isnt room here, but there is one more that must be shared.
My favorite pair grow big and aggressive and fearless, and as adults, individuals can defend themselves against anything they might encounter. Each of their populations has risen steadily through the past two, maybe three decades, and both like to feed in the mud with their noses down and tails up.
As if either needed identification after those descriptions, they are the redfish and feral pig. And like all those other animals, I am convinced each would be proud to be associated with the other.